ANNA (2019) – QuikReview

This is a 7/10 movie, let’s get that said straight off the bat. It’s not high cinema. ANNA is a “spy girl” movie that should have dropped the “spygirl!” bits and concentrated on being just a good spy movie. It would have bumped it up a full .4944 or even .8749 of a star. That said, I only felt insulted by it in one instance (“You are under my protection, and the protection of the United States of America,” which, in fairness, was intended as a direct insult) and the dialogue didn’t even make me cringe once–which is worth a star all unto itself.

Anyway, like I said: the action scenes are the weakest parts of this movie by far–and this is a movie with a first-timer ex-model actress as the lead, a movie which keeps forgetting what time period it’s set in (evil KGB, but also cell phones; Cold War hostilities but also USB drives; ATMs are brand new technology but…you get the picture), and it’s a movie with a female lead character that was made in the time of The Great Awokening. And yet, it’s basically only the action scenes that fall flat, somehow. Sasha Luss, the lead, is incredibly beautiful and actually gives a good, if not theatrical, performance. I don’t really care about what time period this movie is set in, because…while I do remember the world before USB drives existed (3.5 inch floppy drive goes chunk click click click whirrrr), the time setting is really only that–a setting; irrelevant to the conflict, which is timeless.

That conflict? There’s this girl, you see, and she wants freedom.

Anna is someone who has had no control over her life–when she’s recruited into the KGB, she’s a junkie who can’t even really escape from her scumbag boyfriend; and being a spy is no better. She might be trained to kill a man with a pencil, now, but she’s still a slave of the state (in the form of her *new* scumbag boyfriend/handler, Alex (Luke Evans), and the Baronness-type spymistress Olga (Helen Mirren)), falsely promised freedom in five years and entirely expected not to survive that long.

Given that Olga keeps throwing her to the wolves (it’s mentioned that hardly anyone in Olga’s department lives five years. Me, I’d draw conclusions about how competent the management in that department is, but…), it seems that Anna’s resigned despair is justified. However, things get simultaneously better and worse for her when she’s caught mid-assassination attempt by the CIA. Agent Leonard (Cillian Murphy) has a deal for her. A nice house in Hawaii…if she assassinates the head of the KGB. He promises that it’ll work. He also promises to personally exfiltrate her after the mission is complete. He promises to keep her safe.

But Anna has learned that she can never rely on men to keep her safe. She can only rely on herself.

Mind you, I really did want an epilogue with Anna chilling on a Hawaiian beach with Leonard, but maybe the filmmakers thought that would be cliche. A little cliche is good for the soul, though.

Well, one, Anna is a good character, because even when she’s a victim, she’s never pathetic. While she’s a junkie trapped in an abusive relationship, she’s still trying to escape–she tries to join the Navy. While she’s being coerced into joining the KGB, she still tries to escape–she’s willing and prepared to kill herself rather than become a slave, until reassured otherwise. But while she is focused on herself, rather than on duty/honor/country, she’s still admirable because her focus isn’t in harming others–it’s merely in getting away from others that would harm her. Anna wants to be free. Anna will do what it takes to be free. Anna pointedly doesn’t harm international diplomatic relations while doing so.

Anna is a truly strong female character. She is self-motivated, plot-relevant, emotionally secure, and morally (well, for an assassin) healthy. I liked her.

Next: everyone in this movie is really, really pretty. I mean, wow.

On top of that, the acting is pretty good, and on top of that, the script is good enough that it doesn’t need Oscar-worthy talent to make it work.

And the cinematography is good, I guess. Everything wasn’t blue/gray/orange wash, so that’s a win, possibly.

The action scenes really, really, fall flat. Here’s why. It’s not because it’s “unrealistic” for waifish ex-models to be beating up on burly men. IT’S ENTERTAINMENT, HELLO. NOBODY CARES. Give it the thinnest smoke screen of “she’s got better training” (AKA, fancier moves), and everyone’ll be happy.

Problem is, the choreography was terrible to the point that I, who haven’t been in a fistfight since 2002, noticed it. Why does a highly-trained bodyguard react to an oncoming assassiness by grabbing her around the neck and walking backwards with her held off the ground, leaving her arms free to stab him in the face? Why does a different highly-trained bodyguard grab her with one hand by the upper arm and then pause, holding his position long enough for her to use her other, unrestrained arm to shoot him in the face? Why not, y’know, tackle the slender woman to the ground and sit on her? And if that’s too much of a potential game changer, why not shift combat emphasis to ranged weaponry and have some kickass gunfights, instead? (The gunfights are also highly unimpressive.) I am annoyed to the point of saying they should have been cut entirely and more attention given to the spy-vs-spy-vs-spy aspects of the story.

Overall: 6.569314/10

Poetry Corner – The Last Suttee

Udai Chand lay sick to death
In his hold by Gungra hill.
All night we heard the death-gongs ring
For the soul of the dying Rajpoot King,
All night beat up from the women’s wing
A cry that we could not still.

All night the barons came and went,
The lords of the outer guard:
All night the cressets glimmered pale
On Ulwar sabre and Tonk jezail,
Mewar headstall and Marwar mail,
That clinked in the palace yard.

In the Golden room on the palace roof
All night he fought for air:
And there was sobbing behind the screen,
Rustle and whisper of women unseen,
And the hungry eyes of the Boondi Queen
On the death she might not share.

He passed at dawn — the death-fire leaped
From ridge to river-head,
From the Malwa plains to the Abu scars:
And wail upon wail went up to the stars
Behind the grim zenana-bars,
When they knew that the King was dead.

The dumb priest knelt to tie his mouth
And robe him for the pyre.
The Boondi Queen beneath us cried:
“See, now, that we die as our mothers died
In the bridal-bed by our master’s side!
Out, women! — to the fire!”

We drove the great gates home apace:
White hands were on the sill:
But ere the rush of the unseen feet
Had reached the turn to the open street,
The bars shot down, the guard-drum beat —
We held the dovecot still.

A face looked down in the gathering day,
And laughing spoke from the wall:
“Oh, they mourn here: let me by —
Azizun, the Lucknow nautch-girl, I!
When the house is rotten, the rats must fly,
And I seek another thrall.

“For I ruled the King as ne’er did Queen, —
To-night the Queens rule me!
Guard them safely, but let me go,
Or ever they pay the debt they owe
In scourge and torture!” She leaped below,
And the grim guard watched her flee.

They knew that the King had spent his soul
On a North-bred dancing-girl:
That he prayed to a flat-nosed Lucknow god,
And kissed the ground where her feet had trod,
And doomed to death at her drunken nod,
And swore by her lightest curl.

We bore the King to his fathers’ place,
Where the tombs of the Sun-born stand:
Where the gray apes swing, and the peacocks preen
On fretted pillar and jewelled screen,
And the wild boar couch in the house of the Queen
On the drift of the desert sand.

The herald read his titles forth,
We set the logs aglow:
“Friend of the English, free from fear,
Baron of Luni to Jeysulmeer,
Lord of the Desert of Bikaneer,
King of the Jungle, — go!”

All night the red flame stabbed the sky
With wavering wind-tossed spears:
And out of a shattered temple crept
A woman who veiled her head and wept,
And called on the King — but the great King slept,
And turned not for her tears.

Small thought had he to mark the strife —
Cold fear with hot desire —
When thrice she leaped from the leaping flame,
And thrice she beat her breast for shame,
And thrice like a wounded dove she came
And moaned about the fire.

One watched, a bow-shot from the blaze,
The silent streets between,
Who had stood by the King in sport and fray,
To blade in ambush or boar at bay,
And he was a baron old and gray,
And kin to the Boondi Queen.

He said: “O shameless, put aside
The veil upon thy brow!
Who held the King and all his land
To the wanton will of a harlot’s hand!
Will the white ash rise from the blistered brand?
Stoop down, and call him now!”

Then she: “By the faith of my tarnished soul,
All things I did not well,
I had hoped to clear ere the fire died,
And lay me down by my master’s side
To rule in Heaven his only bride,
While the others howl in Hell.

“But I have felt the fire’s breath,
And hard it is to die!
Yet if I may pray a Rajpoot lord
To sully the steel of a Thakur’s sword
With base-born blood of a trade abhorred,” —
And the Thakur answered, “Ay.”

He drew and struck: the straight blade drank
The life beneath the breast.
“I had looked for the Queen to face the flame,
But the harlot dies for the Rajpoot dame —
Sister of mine, pass, free from shame,
Pass with thy King to rest!”

The black log crashed above the white:
The little flames and lean,
Red as slaughter and blue as steel,
That whistled and fluttered from head to heel,
Leaped up anew, for they found their meal
On the heart of — the Boondi Queen!

–Rudyard Kipling